Mental Health in the Workplace: The Value of Rest

By Jennifer W. Adkins, Ph.D. | Aug. 28, 2017

 

Earlier this week, I found a scrap of paper while cleaning that stopped me in my tracks. On it, I had written “take a year off” followed by a short list of commitments in my personal and professional life. The list included things I had entered into with excitement—like training other people in my profession and organizing community events—but didn’t have the time or energy needed to continue.

At the time I wrote the list, exhaustion was my norm. I was living with episodic and unpredictable pain, and my work was suffering. I didn’t have the energy to do all the things I normally do. I was keeping my commitments but performing poorly, which made me feel miserable.

What I didn’t know when I wrote that list was that depression would soon be a part of my life. I missed some of the early signs, but eventually it became clear that I was not well. The first clear sign came when I felt no joy during the Night to Shine Prom, an event my friends and I had spent months planning. It’s something we always consider to be “the happiest night of the year.” I thought something might have been “off” with the event, but as I saw joy on everyone’s face except my own, I realized something was “off” with me.

It was then I realized I needed a period of rest for my mental health. And along the way of implementing that rest, I learned a few helpful tips:

It Can Take a While

Some commitments are easy to take a break from, while others require more planning. After the Night to Shine Prom, I let the planning committee know that I wouldn’t be able to help plan the next prom. It was emotionally difficult, but it was quick. However, some of my other commitments took time to transition away from, as I had to identify and train a replacement before I could step down. It took months to fully cross off everything on my list, but each time, I felt a weight lift.

You May Second-Guess Yourself

Each person will face different challenges when preparing for a period of rest. I felt like I would be judged, I felt guilty for being less involved, I worried that important things would be left undone, and I didn’t want my relationships to suffer. These thoughts were common in the beginning, and I had to keep reminding myself how important it was for me to rest and recover.

People May Not Support You

Your colleagues, friends and family probably aren’t fully aware of the reasons rest is necessary for you. If their initial responses aren’t as supportive as you’d hoped for, it might mean they’re just surprised, or they rely on you and will miss your contributions. You may find it helpful to explain why you need to take a break. In some instances, though, the best thing you may be able to do is to quietly try to understand things from their perspective.  

Stepping Away is a Surprisingly Positive Process

Maybe you realize how important it is for you to cut back and have fewer responsibilities. What you may not realize is how positive it can be for other people. During the process of transitioning my responsibilities, I got to see people step up who were just as passionate about these roles as I had been. Almost immediately, the energy they brought to the roles resulted in growth and improvement I hadn’t been able to fully offer for a long time.

Rest is Hard...

Rest is not accomplished by simply taking time off and then going back to your busy schedule. Rest occurs when you allow yourself to be fully inactive. A period of stillness and rest may be a necessary precursor to a more active mental health recovery. After a period of rest, you may find that you are more motivated to engage in activities like exercise, reading, crafting, praying, journaling or spending time with loved ones. You will be more likely to benefit from those wellness-promoting activities if you have taken time to rest first.

But the Results are Worth It

When you’re rested, you’ll have energy to enjoy the things you love again. You’ll know you’re on the right track when your response to your personal and professional opportunities changes from “Oh no” to “Heck yes!” Even before I considered myself fully rested, I found I had more energy to be a mom, to be a wife and to commit to my work. After resting for a month, I was thrilled with the quality of my work. I even had energy left over to spend on myself and the things I enjoy.

You May Not Have All the Resources You Need to Rest

I am blessed to have the support of family and friends—and access to paid sick leave. I know these are not resources everyone has and sometimes paying the bills, getting your kids to school or taking care of your loved ones may not be things you can readily disengage from. My advice if you cannot commit several days—or, dare I say, weeks—to rest is to take advantage of whatever opportunities you can. Do what you absolutely have to do and then rest the remainder of the time. Maybe instead of committing a month to complete rest, you start by committing a month to only doing the things you need to, letting non-essential projects wait and accepting help from others when it’s offered.

I am grateful to have experienced firsthand the profound impact rest can have on mental health and work. Its positive impact has influenced me to incorporate continued rest into my regular schedule. I feel great, and I am proud of the work I am doing. I know if I want things to stay this way, I will need to intentionally make time for rest.

Coming across the slip of paper that started my journey toward rest was a shock. As soon as I saw it, memories of how physically and emotionally exhausted I was rushed in. I cried as I recalled all the moments and days I lost to pain and depression. Then I realized how much better I feel now and the role that rest played in me getting to a better place. Seeing that slip of paper strengthened my resolve to rest when I need it.

 

Jennifer Adkins is a wife, a mom, and a psychologist. Her professional interests include treatment of anxiety disorders, improving family relationships, and reducing stigma associated with mental illness. 

Comments
Mary
This was a very interesting read. I alone try to understand others at times, cannot. Like, why are they like this or that. i wish they had a class that was free to the public on understanding mental Heath awareness/illness.
You hit it right on to help yourself and recognized those areas that you feltt no joy. I think it is wonderful that you have the support and are able to take the time needed to heal.
I on the other hand need to understand what I need to recognize in myself that is off. I will seek help in understanding. The best of luck to you, you It sounds like you deserve this time for you, for giving so much of your time to and for others.
9/21/2017 5:23:11 AM

Ivy Iverson, LMT
Great story!
Thanks so much for sharing!
Not only is this a timely reminder for myself but also for my clients in there progressive self-care.
Many thanks!
Ivy
9/14/2017 10:32:53 AM

Annette
Thank you for sharing your story. I to am a mental health professional. I have have severe depression, anxiety and PTSD. I have always tried to be that person who stands out through perfect performance in my prossional and personal life. Last year I crashed. I took a leave of absence from work that turned out to be permanent. I have spent the last year resting and letting my mind and body heal. I'm still experiencing bouts of depression and anxiety to the point that most days the thought of leaving the house is terrifying. My husband tries to understand but he likes to be on the go. He gets upset at times which has resulted in comments like "you are an invalid", "I feel like I don't have a wife anymore." What he doesn't understand is most days I struggle to keep it together. I often feel like a failure. I know better. I know my mental health issues are real but on the outside I appear perfectly ok. That is the problem. No one can see the battle going on inside me. I have been applying for part-time work because I know it would help me feel like I'm not a complete failure. I do miss being a therapist. I love helping others. I love working in the mental health field. I have thought about finding a job just doing office work but I am a therapist and that is where my heart and passion are. Mental illness is real. It can be debilitating. My heart goes out to those who suffer with mental illness.
9/2/2017 3:18:14 PM

Jennifer Adkins
Thank you all for your kind words. This was hard to write, but I was really hoping that sharing my experience would be helpful and support others who are going through something similar.
9/1/2017 8:29:34 AM

Linda Cassell
Thanks. I see myself enjoying things less. I need rest and recharged.
8/31/2017 11:15:05 PM

Annette
I recently took 2 weeks off work due to an evil boss; I almost slept the entire time. I couldn't agree more with this article. When I was asked what I do on my down time, my response is "catch up on my sleep". My evil boss made a comment he thought that was "interesting"....such a creep
8/30/2017 5:49:33 PM

Lizanne Corbit
This is a beautifully honest, insightful read. I think one of the most important parts of this read is this "Each person will face different challenges...I felt like I would be judged, I felt guilty for being less involved, I worried that important things would be left undone, and I didn’t want my relationships to suffer." This worry and guilt is so normal, and common but openly acknowledging it makes it feel like part of the process instead of a flaw.
8/29/2017 7:57:33 PM

Alicia Tryhubczak
Thank you for writing this article, I definitely learned a few tips from it!
8/28/2017 12:40:47 PM

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